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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Dogs and Cats

101723373By Dr. Becker

Obsessive compulsive behaviors occur in many types of animals, including horses, dogs, cats, exotic birds, pigs and many zoo inhabitants.

Two of the most common behaviors in dogs are obsessive licking which results in acral lick dermatitis (ALD), also known as a lick granuloma, and tail chasing.

In cats, common obsessive behaviors include wool-sucking (pica, or the eating of non-food substances) and psychogenic alopecia, which is hair loss and baldness from excessive grooming of the hair and skin.

According to Veterinary Practice News:

"In people with OCD—and by inference in animals exhibiting compulsive behavior—the cycle goes something like this: Anxiety leads to engagement in a repetitive behavior (a compulsion), which affords temporary relief. Later a constantly recurring thought (an obsession) occurs that causes escalating anxiety. Engagement in the compulsion relieves the anxiety, and so the cycle is propagated."

Animals with compulsive disorders tend to be relatively anxious and high strung. It isn’t common to find OCD-type behavior in laidback animals. An anxious nature may be inherited, however, research indicates a component of ‘nurture,’ for example, a high conflict situation, is necessary for expression of a compulsive behavior.

In considering treatment for a pet with OCD, according to Veterinary Practice News:

"Environmental enrichment alone will not normally reverse a compulsive disorder, but a stress-free, user-friendly environment can prevent compulsive behavior from developing in the first place and make relapse less likely after successful pharmacological treatment."

Preventing a dog or cat from performing a compulsive behavior by physically restraining the animal in some way only leads to more anxiety, not less.

Dr. Becker’s Comments:

Unfortunately, I see a lot of pet dog and cat obsessive compulsive disorders in my practice.

It’s a curse among the many blessings of modern day life and convenience. As much as we love the animals we share our lives with, and as concerned as we are about their health and happiness, very few of us are in a position to allow our pets to live according to their true canine or feline nature.

In my recent interview with Ted Kerasote, we talked about understanding the essential nature of dogs, and how left to their own devices, our canine companions would live extremely active lives, with tremendous amounts of outdoor activity. This is their genetic destiny as descendants of wolves.

Our kitties are natural loners, hunters and athletes. Their place in our lives as indoor-only feline royalty really doesn’t afford them the opportunity to flex their genetic muscles.

Suggestions to Prevent, Control or Reduce OCD in Your Pet

First things first: optimize the physical health of your dog or cat.

If your dog or cat is well-nourished with species-appropriate food, is in good physical condition from plenty of heart-thumping exercise, and is neither over vaccinated nor over medicated, congratulations! You’ve already built a fantastically solid foundation for excellent physical and mental health in your pet.

I don’t see too many extremely healthy, physically active animals with intractable OCD at Natural Pet (my animal hospital).

I also recommend you take your dog or cat to the vet for a wellness exam to insure the source of the obsessive behavior is indeed behavioral and not a physical condition, such as thyroid disease, which needs to be addressed.

If Your Pet is a Dog

Most dogs, especially larger breeds, just aren’t as physically active as they’re designed to be. It can be a challenge to tire out a big dog, especially one of the working or sporting breeds.

If your dog is performing compulsive behaviors, try increasing his exercise. Some suggestions:

  • Walks and hikes
  • Take your dog for a swim
  • Play fetch-the-ball
  • Bike ride with a special dog bike leash
  • Play hide-and-seek with treats and toys
  • Roller blade or jog alongside your dog
  • Get involved in obedience or tracking events, flyball, agility or other sports

I also recommend you help your dog stay mentally stimulated with chew toys and treat-release toys like the Clever K-9. Also place small treats around the house for her to discover, along with other favorite toys.

You might also consider investing in a D.A.P.™ collar or diffuser for your dog. D.A.P.™ is an acronym for Dog Appeasing Pheromone and is designed to have a calming affect on dogs. The collar seems to work well for many dog owners with pups suffering from stress-related behaviors.

Talk with your holistic vet about homeopathic remedies for obsessive behaviors. You can also try a product like Spirit Essences Obsession Remedy.

If You’re Owned by a Cat

Changes in routine are extremely stressful for kitties. When you disrupt your pet’s routine, it translates to him as a loss of control over his very survival.

If a cat in your household is exhibiting OCD behaviors, the first thing you’ll want to do is dramatically limit the number of unusual external events your pet is exposed to.

Cats are independent. They like to set their own schedules, exert full control over their environment, and depend only on themselves for survival.

Just because your beloved feline lives in the house with you doesn’t mean he’s lost his drive to rule the roost. So the more you can do to help your cat feel in control and not an alien in a foreign land, the less stress he’ll endure.

Some suggestions for environmental enrichment for your kitty:

  • Feeding and routine care (litter box scooping, brushing, etc.) should happen at the same time each day.
  • Keep food bowls and litter boxes in the same spot – don’t move them around unnecessarily.
  • Keep litter boxes clean, as well as bedding.
  • Provide an assortment of appropriate cat toys, hiding boxes, scratching posts/trees, etc., and make sure your pet has plenty, if not constant access to these goodies.
  • Consider playing soothing music for an hour or two each day.

You might also consider treat or food-dispensing toys for cats, window perches, and kitty videos.

Spend some time every day playing with your cat, using interactive toys like a laser pointer or Da Bird.

Also consider feline stress remedies by Spirit Essences and OptiBalance cat and kitten formulas. Discuss homeopathic remedies for obsessive behavior with your holistic vet.

Pharmacotherapy for Pet OCD

As you might have guessed, I’m not a big fan of the use of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac and Zoloft) or N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) blockers in the treatment of obsessive behaviors in animals.

They are sometimes appropriate in extreme, intractable cases and/or when an animal is causing harm to himself. Sometimes they can be used as an interim measure to interrupt the cycle of behavior at the same time other less harmful remedies are being attempted.

But my general recommendation is to try a wide variety of natural remedies first, since every drug has side effects.

October 6, 2013 Posted by | animal behavior, Animal Related Education, Dogs, Dogs, Pet Friendship and Love, Pet Health, Pet Nutrition, Pets, responsible pet ownership | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fourth of July Festivities: Should You Bring Your Pet?

Clemente - ASPCA Rescue As the country dons its red, white and blue to celebrate Independence Day, nothing says patriotism like a good old-fashioned barbecue with a side of fireworks. But beware pet parents, what’s fun for people can be a downright drag for our furry friends.

The ASPCA recommends keeping your pooch indoors as much as possible during backyard parties and Fourth of July festivities, even if he or she is a pro picnicker. From toxic food and beverages to raucous guests and fireworks, the holiday weekend is a minefield of potential pet problems.

“Even the most timid dog can leap a six-foot fence if he’s spooked by loud noises,” says Dr. Pamela Reid, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Behavior Center. If your dog shows signs of distress from fireworks or boisterous revelers, Dr. Reid suggests giving him a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter. “The consistent licking should calm his nerves,” she says.

The ASPCA and City of Mission Viejo offer some expert advice to keep your pet singing, “Oh Say Can You See,” all the way to the fifth and beyond:

  • Keep your pet on the wagon. Since alcohol is potentially poisonous to pets, place all wine, beer and spirits well out of paws’ way.
  • Keep your pets on their normal diet; generally avoiding scraps from the grill (unless you normally cook for your pet(s). Essentially stick with your pet’s normal diet—any change, even for a day, can result in stomach upset.  But every pet is different, so a few scraps or goodies in moderation are usually fine. Certain foods like onions, avocado, chocolate, coffee, yeast dough, grapes and raisins are especially toxic to pets. A high volume of salt, often found in large amounts in pre-packaged and picnic type foods is also bad.
  • Avoid lathering your pet with any insect repellent or sunscreen not intended for the four-legged kind. Ingestion can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy.
  • Stay fire-smart. Keep your pet away from fireworks, matches, citronella candles and lighter fluid, which if eaten can irritate the stomach, lungs and central nervous system.
  • Do not put glow jewelry on your pets, or allow them to play with it. While the luminescent substance contained in these products is not highly toxic, excessive drooling and gastrointestinal irritation could still result from ingestions, and intestinal blockage could occur from swallowing large pieces of the plastic containers.
  • Be cool near the pool. Don’t leave pets unsupervised around a pool or lake—not all dogs are expert swimmers! Also, pools aren’t large water bowls—they contain chlorine and other toxic chemicals that can cause stomach problems.
  • Loud, crowded fireworks displays are no fun for pets, so please resist the urge to take them to Independence Day festivities. Instead, keep your little guys safe from the noise in a quiet, sheltered and escape-proof area at home.

As always, if you suspect your pet has ingested something poisonous from the picnic table, please contact your vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. And be sure to check out our more complete list of holiday pet care tips for a safe and happy Fourth!

Source: ASPCA.org/City of Mission Viejo

Posted:  Just One More Pet

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, animals, Just One More Pet, On The Lighter Side, Pet Events, Pet Friendship and Love, pet fun, Pets, responsible pet ownership | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment